The best advice anyone will give you as a manager is to be kind and caring and make the world a better place. This does not mean that you should be a pushover or a flower child. You still need to get your work done, be a star performer, etc. But serious kindness gets you serious results.
It’s not always easy to be kind. Here are some ways it’s hard: You need to tell people with no talent for what they are doing that they are in the wrong field. Then you need to fire them and tell them this will help them find what they are good at. And you have to tell people who have lots of talent but unbearable personalities that their co-workers don’t like them and they need to be more likeable to get anywhere in life. This is difficult news to pass on, and managers who don’t care ignore the problem or shuffle the person off to a new, unsuspecting manager. A kind boss helps a person find a new path, and sometimes that means termination.
At McKinsey there is a strict “up or out” policy. The consulting company promotes its top performers and counsels the others to leave. The important word here is counsels. McKinsey helps people to see why their current job is not a good one for them. As a manager, you are a counselor, helping people to see their highest potential be it with you or at another type of position at another type of company.
As a manager you are in a position to make peoples’ lives better. You can give them more interesting work, better coaching, more flexibility, all the things that you have always wanted in a job, you can give to other people. You should do that.
Just don’t go overboard. The first time I got a management position I tried to overhaul all of corporate America from my new-manager cubicle. I surreptitiously implemented affirmative action, and though I hate to admit this, I hired people who were not totally qualified. I gave people with scattered track records the chances of their lifetimes, and when they failed I compensated for them. I mentored people at all hours of the day and my work suffered. I snuffed out sexual harassment at a speed that only someone looking too hard for it could manage. Finally, I got a reputation for caring more about making peoples’ lives better than making my boss’s life better. It was a deserved reputation, and I was fired.
It hurts me even now to say it was a deserved firing. But it taught me a good lesson: The company comes first. And my job was to please my boss. Which is everyone’s job. You get an opportunity to manage people because you are going to make things better for the company. The company wants happy workers, but not at the expense of effective workers.
So here’s another piece of advice for new managers: Success is about balance. A good manager balances the needs of her company and the needs of her employees, and after that, a good manager uses her power over peoples’ lives to make the world a better place.
The cynics of the world will say, “That’s not realistic. I never got that.” But don’t ask yourself if you ever got that. Ask yourself if you ever gave it. It is possible to go through your life doing good deeds and just trusting that they’ll come back to you, in some way. Management is the power to make a difference. Do that, without wondering what you’ll get in return.
That said, you could do more great things if you managed really well and got more power. Don’t forget that.